ARMM GOV WARNS OF VIOLENCE VS. YANKEES IN JOLO  

Manila, Feb. 20, 2003 -- Gov. Parouk Hussin of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao yesterday warned of renewed hostilities should the 03-1 Balikatan counter-terrorism exercises push through in Sulu as planned.

"There are so many undisciplined but determined groups (such as kidnap-for-ransom groups and others) in Sulu. The danger of massive armed confrontations is always there," Hussin said at the Ciudad Fernandina forum.

Hussin said "the government never consulted us (ARMM) regarding the Balikatan exercise."

He also said the presence of American troops may stir uneasiness among the residents.

Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes, in a radio interview, assured the counterterrorism exercises do not violate the Constitution.

"Our objective here is to enhance the capability of our soldiers through training in fighting the terrorists and at the same time the operation against them will continue," he said.

"We really need to address the problem there in Jolo. We have to let the terrorists know that the government and President Arroyo is capable and determined in bringing peace to the island," he said.

He said those against the Sulu exercises were also those who opposed last year's exercises in Basilan, another Abu Sayyaf stronghold.

"Yung mga tao doon, noong una sabi nila baka kung ano ang mangyari (but) after a while, nakita naman nila na okay pala," he said.

He said the objective of the Sulu training is to enhance the capability of Filipino troops in defeating the Abu Sayyaf.

During the Balikatan 02-1, US Special Forces were deployed in hostile areas to train and advise Filipino counterparts on how to annihilate the Abu Sayyaf group.

Reyes said the joint exercises will "start in a few days."

Maj. Gen. Joseph Weber, commander of the 3rd US Marine Division based in Okinawa, Japan, is set to arrive in a few days to finalize the details of the Sulu exercises with the Armed Forces.

Among the details to be ironed is the duration of the training and the number of participating troops. The exercise had been tentatively set for next month.

The Sulu exercise will overlap with other exercises in Zamboanga City, Nueva Ecija and Pampanga. The one-year training is expected to commence later this month.

Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye belied reports that US trainors and soldiers will join combat operations against the Abu Sayyaf. (Malaya)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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